Máirin Keegan was a leading member of the Revolutionary Marxist Group, the Irish section of the Fourth International and was also involved with the left wing Republican organisation Saor Éire. She was a lively and very likeable person, with an engaging personality. Bob Purdie, May 2013. (1)
There should be a plaque on an old Georgian house beside the canal at Harold’s Cross in Dublin, to Máirin Keegan who was a woman ahead of her time in an Ireland of traditional conservative values. We see this in the choices she made both in her personal and political life. Máirin was in Paris during the student revolt of 1968, she was on the executive of Saor Éire and was also appointed as secretary to Bernadette Devlin MP. She worked too with the Irish Civil Liberties League, the Labour Party and the Dublin Young Socialists.
Keagan was born on 8th, December 1931 to Mary (Kelleher) and Thomas Keegan, who was an Irish War of Independence veteran, at 5, Parnell Road, Harold’s Cross. She was the eldest of three sisters and one brother. After winning a scholarship for secondary education she was educated at St. Joseph’s Secondary School on Eccles Street. During an age when working-people, received no schooling beyond primary level until the introduction of free education in 1967. After her Leaving Certificate Keagan worked in the Department of Customs and Excise in the Free State civil service, where she met and later married Michael Walsh.
Her life is the story of political development from the idealistic form of nationalism to that of a dedicated Marxist. She began and always remained in the Gaelic League. Over time she became dissatisfied with the purely cultural and apolitical outlook of the body. In 1962 she left Dublin for London and it was here that Máirin saw for herself the need for political and socialist activity if ever her cultural aims were to be achieved. She began to examine the various left-wing movements of the time and rejected in turn both Clann na hEireann and the Connolly Association.(2)
Subsequently joining Géry Lawless and Paddy Healy’s London-based Trotskyist Irish Workers Group, it was a decision that would change her life forever. The membership of the IWG included Liam Daltun, Anne Murphy, Sean Morrissey and Frank Keane, a former OC of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA. Máirín would go on to work with revolutionary movements in Paris, Corsica and elsewhere. Along with Géry Lawless she took part in the four-day civil rights march organised by People’s Democracy (PD) from Belfast to Derry in 1969, that was brutally attacked by loyalists at Burntollet.
On her return to Dublin in the late 1960s she worked with Rayner O’Connor Lysaght, who married her sister Áine and Peter Graham from the Young Socialists. She participated in establishing the Irish Section of the Fourth International. What’s more, the Young Socialist’s including Keegan and Eamonn McCann interrupted the premiere of A State of Chassis, a political satirical revue at Dublin’s Peacock Theatre on 16th, September 1970. The protesters considered the revue’s portrayal of the situation in the north of Ireland offensive. Máirin claimed the next night we were refused admission when we went to the entrance to collect for the Butch Roche Defence Fund, but we found the door locked. “Tomás MacAnna director of the revue, left the performance to tell me that we could collect money outside the theatre. MacAnna was also prepared to an open forum to discuss the whole situation, such a forum was deemed acceptable to the protesting group”.
It is worth noting that Máirin Keegan procured two CS gas grenades that Butch Roche threw onto the floor of the House of Commons in 1970 to give British MPs a taste of the gas they were unleashing on protesters in Belfast and Derry. She had suggested to Roche that they mount a publicity campaign to highlight the use of CS gas, because they were convinced it had done considerable harm. (The British army first used the gas in April 1970 when they indiscriminately fired 104 gas canisters into Ballymurphy in West Belfast.)
Welcomed guest at the Keegan’s home on Parnell Road during this era; included figures such as Géry Lawless, Liam Walsh, Bob Purdie, Joe Dillon, Charlie O’Neill, Butch Roche, Peter Graham and Charlie Bird.
During this period, Máirín became involved in Saor Éire Action Group and saw this as complementary to her involvement with the Fourth International. She would later provide a silhouetted interview to British television as a representative of Saor Éire defending the actions of this armed group. Saor Éire was set up in the late 1960s and was distinguishable from other Republican organisations at the time through its politics which leaned explicitly towards the international Trotskyist movement of the Fourth International.
In a tragic turn of events a premature bomb explosion killed Liam Walsh on 13 October 1970 and also injured Martin Casey. Walsh, Casey and Máirín had been examining the device at the rear of McKee Army Base, off Blackhorse Avenue in Dublin. Though she survived the explosion apparently unhurt, it is believed that the shock triggered the revival of the cancer that would kill her fifteen months later.(3) Prior to this action, together with Peter Graham and Liam Daltun, she was instrumental in the Frank Keane Defence Committee that held demonstrations and pickets for his release. Keane, was subsequently acquitted for his alleged involvement in a 1970 bank raid in Dublin in which a member of the Garda was shot dead.
On 25th, October 1971 her comrade Peter Graham was assassinated in a flat in the Stephen’s Green area of Dublin. He was the founder and chairperson of the Young Socialists and was recruited into Saor Éire by Frank Keane, the National Organiser of the group. The funeral oration was delivered by Tariq Ali, of the International Marxist Group (IMG) the British section of the Fourth International.
Less than three months later Máirín passed away from cancer on 7th, January 1972. During the removal at St. Bernadette’s church, Clogher Road a volley of three shots was fired by Saor Éire in a salute over her coffin, which was draped in the Red Flag of the Fourth International and the Starry Plough. Several hundred people including Bernadette Devlin, Bob Purdie (IMG) and Marie MacMahon (PD) walked in the cortege that halted at 5, Parnell Road for a minute’s silence, while a lone piper played a lament. Showing the threat the state considered her to be, hundreds of Garda surrounded the mourners at the graveside in Mount Jerome cemetery.
The graveside oration was given by Rayner Lysaght who declared, in May 1968 in Paris, Keegan took part in the struggle of the workers and students which had opened up a new era of working class revolution. Back in Ireland In 1969 as a member the Citizens Committee and more importantly Saor Éire, she gave aid to the national revolution that had been developing in the north of Ireland. He also recalled that after the assassination of Peter Graham she was appointed the representative of the Fourth International in Ireland. Following the oration several verses of The Internationale were sung and the clenched fist salute was given.
On the 25th anniversary of her death a headstone was unveiled in March 1997. Beginning with a procession from Mount Jerome cemetery gates preceded by a woman carrying the Irish tricolour and two men carrying the Starry Plough and the Red Flag of the Fourth International. The proceedings were chaired by Liam Sutcliffe famous for the blowing up Nelson’s Column, with Frank Keane giving the oration. He said” Like James Connolly, Máirín Keegan’s goal was an Irish Socialist Republic. Like James Connolly too, she saw that capitalism is universal, and that this goal has to be part of a match in which victory can be assured only through a worldwide system of Socialist Republics”. The Last Post was played and Kevin Keating laid a wreath on behalf of the Irish section of the Fourth International. The wreath on behalf of the Máirín Keegan Memorial Committee was laid by Treasa Keegan.
No honest person, if intelligent, and no intelligent person, if honest, will consider that anything given to the Socialist movement is a sacrifice. It is no sacrifice at all to invest our all time, wealth, knowledge; and all else so as to leave our children the estate of the socialist or co-operative commonwealth. Daniel De Leon’s quoit inscribed on Máirín Keegan’s headstone.
- The “I remember” series of essays written by Bob Purdie 1940-2014. Purdie a former member of the International Marxist Group wrote several autobiographical essays on his Facebook page.
- Red Mole 24, January 1972, paper of the International Marxist Group the British section of the Fourth International.
- Rayner O’Connor Lysaght comment, Photos from the 1970 funeral of Liam Walsh. June 2013, Come Here to Me.